Dying is a laughing matter

Par Alidor Aucoin le 25 mars 2012

In the first beat of Morris  Panych’s  black comedy, Vigil, at the Segal Centre until April 1, an overly theatrical,  neurotic  character  bursts into his dying  aunt’s  attic  bedroom  and  off the top says  “Let’s not talk about anything depressing. Do you want to be cremated?”

Vigil_01.jpgThe man is Kemp,  (Marcel Jeannin)  who  has quit his bank job  to move in and care for his enfeebled aunt  Grace  (Kim Yaroshevskaya).  Fully expecting her to die within a week or two, he  has come to cash in once  she has gone.   Kemp is decidedly not a people person;   his bedside manner, to put it mildly,  is atrocious.  “I don’t like people,” he declares at one point, “It is not that I can take them or leave them. I really don’t like them.”  As he  picks the scabs from  his emotional  scars in a series of vignettes that mark the passing of time,  we learn why he is such a miserable human being.

The play is really a 90 minute monologue that rehashes Kemp’s past,  without making him sympathetic. Through it all  Kemp  goads Grace into dying.  When she doesn’t co-operate, his exasperation with her drives the plot.   During  most  of the diatribe,  Grace  remains silent,  knitting away in her  bed.   Autumn  turns to winter, winter  turns to spring, and by the time spring turns to summer,  Grace  still isn’t dead. Incredibly, by  then, the two have become  mutually  dependent.

This is theatre of the absurd that emphasizes the dynamics of the human need to acceptance.   Because Kemp is such a self-loathing, nasty character, the challenge to any actor who attempts the role is to make an audience at least empathize. Jeannin   almost pulls it off. But, -  as the old saying goes, dying is easy,  comedy, especially black comedy  - is hard.  Jeannin’s  timing is off  and some of the bitter punch lines don’t have the mordant sting.  The same production was directed  by  Martin Faucher in French at the Rideau Vert.  It may be that having assimilated the award winning  text  in French, some of the nuance in English has been discarded.

vigil_02.jpgIf the true test of an actor is not to act, but to react.  Kim Yaroshevskaya  as Grace passes  with flying colours.  This old lady may be dying, but she is  delightfully alert, and certainly no body’s fool.  In the program notes director  Faucher suggests  Kemps  savagery gradually makes way for reconciliation and tenderness.

In  spite of the wickedly surprising  plot twist  in the final scenes,   while there are a couple of poignant moments,  tenderness  remains  elusive. Set  designer  Jonas Bouchard has assembled a delightful granny bedroom under the eaves that manages to look small on the Segal’s immense stage.  In spite of its flaws, Vigil resonates with anyone who has had to deal with an aging relative, in a wry, and occasionally uncomfortable manner.


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